Copa America 2021: 'Unpredictable' Neymar helps Brazil cruise to win over Covid-depleted Venezuela

PSG star scores from the spot and sets up Barbosa for third goal

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Brazil coach Tite praised the "unpredictable" talents of Neymar after the Paris Saint-Germain forward played a star role in their 3-0 victory over a coronavirus-depleted Venezuela in their 2021 Copa America opener.

Neymar, who missed out on Brazil's 2019 Copa success through injury, converted a penalty and also created an assist as Brazil got their campaign up and running.

"He's developed the ability to create. Right foot, left foot, he's become an unpredictable player," Brazil coach Tite enthused about Neymar.

Centre-back Marquinhos opened the scored midway through the first half and Gabriel Barbosa sealed the Group B win a minute from time.

In a tournament already delayed a year and moved from its original hosts Argentina and Colombia due to the pandemic, it was fitting that the coronavirus should take centre-stage right up to the tournament kick-off.

Played in front of an empty Mane Garrincha stadium in Brasilia due to Covid-19 restrictions, Brazil made light of the continent's minnows, who arrived with a makeshift side after eight players tested positive the day before.

Venezuela called up 15 replacements but could still only name seven out of a possible 12 substitutes due to a lack of available players.

"It's not just being without key players, we didn't have time to prepare better for this team," complained Venezuela's Portuguese coach Jose Peseiro.

The game went ahead and, predictably, reigning champions Brazil were well on top.

The hosts took the lead on 23 minutes when Richarlison flicked on a Neymar corner that deflected into Marquinhos's path inside the six-yard box, allowing the centre-back to bundle home.

Neymar missed twice squandered chances to double Brazil's lead, the second from only three yards out after being teed up by Gabriel Jesus.

But the former Barcelona striker made no mistakes from 12 yards after Yohan Cumana clumsily brought down Danilo in the box, Neymar sending goalkeeper Joel Graterol the wrong way.

Neymar then created the third, rounding Graterol before crossing for Gabriel Barbosa to chest home on the goal line.

Brazil’s next game is against Peru on June 17, while Venezuela take on Colombia the same day.

Edwin Cardona scored the only goal as Colombia held on under second half pressure to begin their Group B campaign with a 1-0 win over Ecuador – who thrashed them 6-1 the last time the sides met in a World Cup qualifier in November.

The result marked a third straight defeat for Ecuador while Colombia have gone three games unbeaten since Reinaldo Rueda – a one-time target for the UAE side – took over as manager at the start of the year.

Both sides face Venezuela next, with Colombia playing them on June 17 in Goiania and Ecuador on June 20 in Rio de Janeiro.

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